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How to have a happy marriage

Karen and I have a great marriage and I hope you do too or will one day.  Marriage should be an institution that brings joy and life to our lives.  Instead, it has an unacceptably high failure rate.  Young people look at the wreckage strewn across the social landscape and the odds …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Karen and I have a great marriage and I hope you do too or will one day.  Marriage should be an institution that brings joy and life to our lives.  Instead, it has an unacceptably high failure rate.  Young people look at the wreckage strewn across the social landscape and the odds scare them.  What is to be done?  How do we help them discover joy in marriage? 

The good news is, it’s not for a lack of resources that young people struggle.  A good place to start is with those resources that have established some kind of track record.

I like marriagebuilders.com.  It is a practical and interactive site.  It introduces you to the idea that both parties must work on their individual stuff if they are to be happy together.  If one or both people are needy, they will inevitably seek to fulfill their needs through their partner, resulting in dysfunction and wounding. 

The site’s author, Dr. Willard Harley, has developed a concept he calls “the Love Bank” that is helpful in diagnosing the dysfunctional aspects of a relationship.  He has compiled a test called, “the LoveBuster’s test” that does this.  We often fall into patterns and habits that tax and wound our partners as we make more withdrawals than deposits.  The Love Busters test addresses one of the most troubling factors in many relationships – a lack of objectivity.  With just two people in a relationship, who determines who’s right and who’s wrong? 

The foundational principle undergirding the Love Bank is that we need to give more than we get.  We need to bring more to the table than we require.  What this means is that if you’re a fundamentally needy person (think Bob in “What About Bob”) who requires more than you’re able to give, you should not get married.  You will inevitably capsize your marriage relationship.

Many people are able to peacefully co-exist in their marriage, establishing a utilitarian relationship where there is neither give nor take, but a benign parallel living.  This is a sad, ghoulish way to go through life.  You see it in the way a lot of older couples silently sit through lunch together at restaurants.  They’re not so much sharing life as they are surviving it, in each other’s space, but not one another’s presence.
Life wasn’t meant to be survived but celebrated.  You may doubt the possibility of getting there if you’ve never learned the habit of being a giver, but many people have unlearned their broken behavior and have struggled to a place of stability and even arrived at the possibility of marital bliss.* 
*If you’re one who is desperate to start on a journey toward this possibility, let me say, there is no ready-made road map.  But here’s a clue that can get you going: It begins by, like Pinocchio, a deep hunger to “become a real boy.”  This hunger will fuel your journey to the truth of what God really thinks about you.  It will lead you to an abandonment of your dysfunctional false self and a process of finding your true identity (for more on that process, read these blogs). From that solid ground, you will bring all you as an individual need to build a marriage that continually breathes life into your spirit.

Comments (7)

  • Dear Father and Great Mom,
    Greetings in the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    We are praying for both of you.May God bless this couple and use them with mighty power in all over world.Dear Dadi Seth many happy returns on the marriage day.May God live long both of you.
    It’s about love, attraction, like-mindedness, commitment, shared values and ideals.

    With love and blessings.
    Ps.Emmanuel & Sonera

  • I was starting to do this in my marriage. I was starting to take more and lean on Andy, and I could see that but I didn’t know how to fix it. He’s been gone now for a month for army training out west, and while I really didn’t want him to leave, the separation has reset some things in our marriage. I had to get back to doing some things for myself and taking responsibility, instead of leaning on him because it is so convenient. It’s been a good process to re-evaluate the habits that I slipped into. He comes home on Sunday and I can’t wait!

  • My husband and I got married 1 day shy of nine months after knowing one another and we had a baby two days prior to our wedding day. Our pastor married us in the hospital chapel. It was a pretty scary day, both being 18 and knowing, statistics alone, this will probably not work. All I can say, 9 years later, that God was faithful and by His Grace, He has grown a love and desire in us for eachother that is so powerful. I am IN love with my man! And we are on our way to adopting our 4th child! One book I would recommend is Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.

  • Great advice. A lot of life (and the ensuing rewards/consequences) has to do with choices. Individual choices. People have to choose to do their best with a partner. They have to choose to humble themselves. They have to choose to be commited to a partner until death you should part. Not all of our choices are as simple as which brand of gum will give me the best value.

    Nice thoughts, and I hope others will use the resources you suggested. Don’t forget to keep dating your spouse, even after you are married!

  • Seth,
    I’m starting to come out of an only-child funk of being too much of a taker and not enough of a giver. It’s freeing and scary and hard. Thanks for the encouragement and example.

  • Seth,
    It is so good and refreshing to read this! Thank you for writing this and being so darn smart. Please keep it coming!!!

  • Good word Dad,
    I realize so much stuff I need to work on I’m sometimes think, “man I need like at least five more years to work on this!” But then I realize the joy of taking someone as they are and committing to finding truth until death do us part romanticizes my heart and guides me to pray for vulnerability and grace so that I can travel through pain with a companion hand in hand.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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